South African Military History Society

Tel (+27)(0)10-237-0676 Fax (+27)(0)86-617-8002


The Chairman, Malcolm King, opened the meeting with the notices:
* Boer 'n' Brit day will take place 14 May at Val. En route, we will stop at the Heidelberg Concentration Camp Cemetery. The bus for the trip has been kindly sponsored by David Scholtz. * The next movie in the WWI Commemoration series will be Regeneration on Sunday 13 March. Please let us have any suggestions for additions to this series.

The curtain-raiser for the evening was delivered by our own Jan-Willem Hoorweg who has had a long and varied career in the world of music both as a professional musician for 20 years and 14 years in the music retail industry. His talk was titled Colonel Robert Jacob Gordon - Soldier, Explorer, Linguist, Artist and Naturalist. Although Robert Jacob Gordon is better known as the Commander of the Cape Garrison at the time of the first British annexation of the Cape in 1795, the purpose of Jan Willem's talk was not really to deal with the short campaign that led to the battle of Muizenberg and to the prudent surrender. Instead, he wanted to highlight the incredible versatility of this Scotsman. He was not only a soldier fighting as a member of the Scots Brigade in the service of the Netherlands, which is what drew our speaker's attention to him in the first place, but he went on more expeditions than any other 18th century explorer in Southern Africa. He was indeed rated as the most knowledgeable person about the interior of Southern Africa of his time.

He was a diligent recorder of data who compiled a treasure-trove of geographical matters, meteorology, botany, nature and ethnology. Gordon was also a very capable artist, doing numerous drawings and paintings of flora, fauna, people and unusual features like Bushman paintings. He also made early maps of Cape Town and started the first climate records there. He was a versatile linguist not only in European languages but also in a number of indigenous South African languages. During his exploring he discovered and named the Orange River - after the Dutch Royal House. His introduction of the merino sheep - a gift from the King of Spain - in 1790, led to the thriving wool industry of later years. It is indeed a pity that such a brilliant man should choose to commit suicide after the surrender to the British. Gordon's Bay was named in honour of this amazing man. The talk was illustrated by maps, pictures and some of Gordon's paintings of the flora and fauna.

Our main lecturer was John Myburgh who has had a most distinguished law career. His subject was Leningrad - Abused - Besieged - Survived. The siege of Leningrad, 14 September 1941 - 27 January 1944. The siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) by Army Group North of the German Army lasted from 14 September 1941 to 27 January 1944, a period of 880 days, almost two and a half years. The siege has been described as "the deadliest blockage of a city in human history". The most reliable estimate of the number of civilians who starved to death is 800 000: more than the total number of deaths, military and civilian [597 000], suffered by Britain and the USA in the whole of the Second World War. St Petersburg was built along the estuary of the river Neva to Lake Ladoga to give Russia a window on the West. It became known as the "City of Bones" because of the huge numbers who died constructing it. It was the capital of Imperial Russia for 200 years until 1918. Its population in 1939 was 3 million but by 1942 because of war and starvation it was 700 000. Stalin particularly hated the city as it represented imperialism to him.

In June 1941 Hitler gave the order that famine was to be a weapon against the Russians and all political commissars were to be killed. German Army Group North moved on Leningrad but it was disorganised and after three months, halted before the city because the troops were exhausted and so the siege began.

The Russians evacuated trainloads of treasures from the Hermitage Museum to the Urals until the railway line was cut by the Germans. Factories and people too were evacuated to the Urals. Whilst Leningrad was bombed and shelled by the Germans the Communists launched political terror within. Stalin's motto was "Not one step back". He even wanted German camps which held Russian prisoners to be bombed. Peasants trying to retreat into the city were shot. A People's Levy was enforced within the city so that citizens dug trenches, laid barbed wire and hauled concrete for bunkers. Only workers received a "ration" whilst those too old or too young to participate in the activities of the People's Levy received half of this - which equaled roughly one slice of "bread" per day - nothing else. The only Russian access to the city was across Lake Ladoga - by boat in summer and over the ice in winter. This could not bring in anything like enough. As a result of all, this cannibalism became rife and John described a hospital where the staff kept themselves and their treatable patients alive on this basis. Many of the medical staff were executed when the Soviets discovered this.

As a result of all this, Shostakovich wrote his Seventh [Leningrad] Symphony to mirror the defiance and courage of the city. He actually wrote the first three movements whilst living in the city under siege. The score was relayed to the rest of the world and performed in London and New York to great acclaim. However, the most compelling performance was the Leningrad premiere by the Radio Orchestra in the still besieged city. The orchestra had only fourteen musicians left, so the conductor Karl Eliasberg had to recruit anyone who could play a musical instrument to perform the symphony.

Leningrad's triumph was that it had resisted the twin monsters of the century - Communism and Fascism.

Pat Henning

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This serves as notice that the 50th AGM of the Society will take place in the J.C. Lemmer Auditorium
at the SA National Museum of Military History at 20h00 on Thursday 14th April 2016.


1. Minutes of the previous Annual General Meeting;
2. Chairman's Report for 2015;
3. Statement of Accounts for 2015;
4. Matters arising;
5. Approval of such minutes, report and accounts;
6. Presentation of prizes for 2015 lectures;
7. Election of Chairman;
8. Election of Committee members;
9. General.

Any member interested in serving on the committee, please contact Joan at letterhead address

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KZN in Durban:

Cape Town:

SAMHSEC in Port Elizabeth:

CR = curtain raiser; ML = main lecture; DDH = Darrell Hall Memorial Lecture;

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For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Ken Gillings 031-702-4828

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